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Ex-Avita employee charged with embezzlement
Woman suspected of spending stolen money on dance team
0918MUG Austin-KimberlyNico
Kimberly Nicole Austin

A former employee of a nonprofit agency that serves the disadvantaged was charged Thursday with embezzling thousands of dollars, some of which investigators believe went to a high school dance team she coached.

Kimberly Nicole Austin, 31, is accused of forging documents in order to steal money from Avita Community Partners, a Flowery Branch-based social services agency that serves 13 Northeast Georgia counties.

Arrest warrants filed Thursday detail about $25,000 in thefts, but Flowery Branch police acknowledged the amount may be much higher before the investigation ends.

Asked if the amount stolen from Avita could be in excess of $100,000, Flowery Branch Police Lt. David Spillers said, “it may very well be.”

“We’re at the preliminary stages,” Spillers said.

Austin remained in the Hall County Jail on Thursday night, pending a first appearance today before a magistrate judge who will set bond. She is charged with two counts of felony theft by taking, four counts of first-degree forgery and five counts of identity theft/fraud.

“There is the potential for other charges,” Spillers said.

Police said Austin processed applications for Avita’s summer camp, which provides scholarship money for qualified children. Austin worked at Avita for about three years until she was fired in July, when agency officials discovered financial discrepancies, police said.

Avita Community Partners, formerly known as Georgia Mountains Community Services, provides individual and family services for people suffering from mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictions. Part of its funding comes through the federal government, and it also receives funds from the state of Georgia.

Earlier this year the agency was forced to eliminate 37 positions due to $3.6 million in state budget cuts.

Avita’s CEO, Joe Rutherford, did not return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

According to arrest warrants, Austin is accused of forging at least four summer camp application documents naming a total of 10 children in order to obtain scholarship money through checks. The forgeries and thefts occurred between June 12, 2008, and July 22, according to arrest warrants.

Police believe some of the stolen money went to extracurricular student organizations at Gainesville High School, where Austin was a volunteer coach for the dance team.

Numerous Gainesville city school employees have been interviewed during the course of the investigation, Spillers said.

“Insofar as the school system is concerned, they had no knowledge that anything improper had taken place,” Spillers said.

Gainesville Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said Thursday she was aware of the ongoing investigation and that the system’s employees were working with police.

Dyer said Austin worked with the GHS dance team for at least two years as an unpaid volunteer, not a school employee, and that she had been relieved of those duties.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Dyer referred all other questions to authorities.

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